Brussels, Belgium – At least 10 civilians injured in clashes have died in southeastern Turkey over the past two weeks because ambulances could not reach them to take them to hospitals.
The people have either bled to death on the street or in homes, or were admitted to hospitals only after it was too late – and residents fear there will be more deaths in the coming days.
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The deaths have occurred since the Turkish government began enforcing a round-the-clock, open-ended curfew on Cizre, a majority-Kurdish town with a population of 120,000. Some have risked going outside to buy daily necessities, while carrying a white flag to show they are not a threat; others have remained holed-up indoors.
The Turkish government says the curfew, which has been in effect since December 14, is necessary in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that the Turkish government labels as “terrorists”. Human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Turkish security forces of using disproportionate violence in clashes with armed, PKK-affiliated young people in Cizre, noting that dozens of civilians have died as a result.
According to Turkish media, many Cizre residents have fled the violence, and only an estimated 20,000 people remain in the town today.
Turkish MP Faysal Sariyildiz, a member of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, has been spending time in the southeastern town amid the recent crisis. He said that 28 civilians wounded in recent clashes between Turkish security forces and PKK-affiliated youth have been stuck in the basement of a house, waiting in vain for ambulances to take them to hospital.
“Six of the injured … succumbed to their wounds,” Sariyildiz told Al Jazeera in a recent telephone interview. “They are lying in the same two basement rooms where the wounded are waiting for help.”
Turkish authorities will not give permission for ambulances to enter areas of Cizre where operations are ongoing. About two weeks ago, 16-year-old Huseyin Paksoy, who was shot and lost a significant amount of blood, died in a hospital in Cizre after he had waited for medical help for four days. An ambulance was only allowed to pick him up after a Turkish lawyer appealed for an urgent procedure at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which decided that the Turkish authorities could not endanger Paksoy’s right to life and physical integrity.
Lawyers then decided to file more applications at the ECHR in other cases, five of which were accepted by the court within a day of their submission. The life of 20-year-old Helin Oncu, a student who was shot while visiting Cizre under circumstances that are unclear, was saved through an ECHR order a week ago.
This marks the first time in the history of the ECHR that the urgent procedure motion has been used to enable injured civilians to be brought to a hospital. Usually, the urgent procedure motion is used to prevent extraditions to countries where deportees’ lives may be at risk.
Ramazan Demir, a lawyer in Istanbul who coordinates the urgent procedure applications to the ECHR, said: “We decided to use this urgent procedure after the ECHR turned down our request to immediately ban the round-the-clock and open-ended curfews. They will only rule on whether the curfews are violating fundamental rights later, possibly this year.”
But Turkish lawyers have found that their access to the ECHR has been hampered since last Tuesday, after they sent an application to save the lives of 14 heavily injured people in the basement. Demir showed Al Jazeera a letter that he received from the court at that time, which stated that domestic judicial options must be exhausted before the ECHR may be asked to intervene.
“We did that [filed suit in domestic courts] in the first few cases and didn’t get a positive result, so in the next cases we decided to skip the domestic court to save time. This was accepted by the ECHR, but now, suddenly, they stopped accepting it,” Demir said, noting the application concerning the 14 wounded people was brought back to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which ruled against them. The application has now been brought back to the ECHR, which is set to issue a ruling on Tuesday.
“We are losing precious time, since it’s a matter of life or death,” Demir said.
Authorities in Sirnak province, where Cizre is located, deny that ambulances have been blocked by authorities. A written statement released by the governorship stated that reports that ambulances have not been permitted to pick up the wounded were “false” and “unfounded”. According to the statement, the wounded can be brought to a certain point in the town from where they can be transported to hospital.
Sariyildiz, however, says that under such a procedure, the wounded would risk being fired at again, and many are too seriously injured to be moved anywhere without a stretcher.
Demir says he is angry at the ECHR for referring him back to domestic courts after first accepting his applications. “This cannot be anything else than a political decision,” he said. “The Kurds are being sold out by the international justice mechanisms.”
However, the ECHR stated that Turkey’s domestic courts are considered an effective remedy. In a letter to Demir, the ECHR wrote that given the “fluidity and unpredictability of a situation of apparent armed conflict, the Court’s task is hampered by a lack of information and the difficulty of ascertaining the facts”.
Sariyildiz said he had little faith in a positive outcome. “We expect no democratic decision from any Turkish court,” he said, noting the Turkish judiciary had been increasingly brought under the political control of the governing AK party over the past couple of years.
While the courts were deliberating over the fate of the people in the basement, another young woman died, bringing the total number of dead to seven. Sariyildiz said he feared who may be next.
“One of the injured is a 12-year-old boy, and there are elderly among the wounded too,” he added. “I fear more people will die in the cellar in the [coming] days.”